Any sense of “we’re all in this together” appears to evaporate when it comes to those industries that use the most amount of energy. If a recent lead editorial in The Times is anything to go by, there’s a sense that they are somehow above all that. But given the scale of the cuts demanded by the climate change science, can any institution or company really be seen as being somehow immune? And is fracking really the golden solution to all our woes? Read on …
The Times piece was called Energy and Jobs: the transformation of America’s energy market is starting to have a direct impact on vital British industries. Its argument was that the rush of cheap gas in the US that has lowered prices means that “British energy-intensive industries, chief among them chemicals manufacture, are becoming uncompetitive”. “The British economy”, they state, “remains yoked to high energy costs and low growth that compare well only with its sluggish European neighbours”.
It gives as an example a PVC company in Runcorn, which used to export to the US but is now increasingly struggling to do so. The solution proposed, in case you didn’t see it coming, is that:
“the Government should, finally, speed up the growth of domestic fracking by boosting incentives for local communities, and urge the US to shun protectionism and export its own cheap shale gas as soon as global markets make it profitable to do so … if the price is that the coalition’s green credentials are further undermined before the next election it is one that must be paid”.
“A price that must be paid?” What? Hold on a second. Let me put that another way. The survival of companies making PVC should take precedence over our reining in our carbon emissions? A quick PVC reality check here. According to the Healthy Buildings Network:
- In virtually all European nations, certain uses of PVC have been eliminated for environmental reasons, and several countries have ambitious programs to reduce PVC use overall
- By-products of PVC production are highly persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic
- PVC production is the largest use of chlorine gas in the world
- Chlorine production for PVC consumes an estimated 47 billion kilowatt hours per year – equivalent to the annual total output of eight medium-sized nuclear power plants
- PVC is one of the most environmentally hazardous consumer materials ever produced
- Its production leads to emissions of dioxins, heavy metals, mercury, lead, ethylene dichloride (EDC) and vinyl chloride monomer (VCM) and diethylhexyl phthalate to name just a few
“The age of cheap energy may be past, but less expensive energy is still an essential goal”.
“The BMA has absolutely no idea who we are: it doesn’t recruit us, it doesn’t train us, it doesn’t pay us, it can’t sack us and it doesn’t know if we’re fairly treated or not. The Serco staff represent the BMA but have nothing to do with the BMA”.
“We pretend our mission is to defend doctors, whereas it’s really only to make sure we answer the phone within three rings and don’t go to the toilet”.
The advertising industry has to be brought under control, as do lots of other types of industries. As long as the advertising industry is there telling people that what they need to do and what they want to do and what other people who they look up to crucially are doing and are living like, and as long as they are projecting a world to people that is all about very unsustainable, high carbon living, it’s difficult to see how that would be congruent with tackling climate change.
Put alongside that a range of other industries and players, including the media, “energy intensive industries” and PVC companies. I understand that we are talking about peoples’ jobs here. But surely large employers in energy-intensive industries have even more responsibility to move with the times, to adapt and evolve. Anything less, when the writing is so clearly on the wall energy-wise, is grossly irresponsible.
Editorials such as this do no-one any favours. As Naomi Klein told the Radical Emissions Reductions conference, we need “a radical, enabling environment in which these policies can flourish”. Transition is just one of many manifestations of this. One cornerstone of such an environment will have to be that no-one is immune from change, least of all those energy-intensive companies most to blame for creating this mess in the first place.
I’ll leave the last word to Gillian Clarke, National Poet of Wales, who was on Desert Island Discs this weekend. She said “killing something so precious is not to our advantage”. Although I’m not holding my breath, they’re words that I hope the leader writers of the Times might bear in mind next time they sit down to compose any subsequent lead editorials related to energy.